Illustration by Sergio Ingravalle.

Illustration by Sergio Ingravalle.

MICHIGAN MUSINGS:
The Accidental Wolverine

by Sharon Forman | Spring 2019

In the 1988 romance “Crossing Delancey,” decent and ever-patient Sam Posner informs lovable, but dismissive, Izzy that she may wish to change her perspective.

“You should try a new hat sometime. It might look good on you,” he suggests. With a new hat from Sam, a clearer look into her own desires, plus a dose of meddling from her grandmother, Izzy is ultimately matched with Sam.

Three decades after the release of this charming movie, the message still resonates. Sometimes, a person just needs a new hat for opportunities and connections to emerge.

Each morning for the past three years, I have been taking our energetic dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Some fellow dog walkers and joggers I have encountered seem to thrive during cold northeastern mornings. These are humans who consider subfreezing temperatures “brisk,” “refreshing,” and even “invigorating.” These are not my people.

I wear a sweater in the summertime when visiting my parents in Virginia—that’s southern Virginia, where the heat is decidedly not dry. I actually look forward to the occasional hot flash, so I can be warm at night without so many blankets. In New York, between the months of October and May, I almost always wear a hat, so my ears don’t freeze when walking the dog.

My favorite hat for our morning constitutionals used to be a creamy white, fuzzy beret that actually matched our puppy. Then, after a trip to U-M for Parents & Family Weekend and hours of sitting on a concrete seat attempting to understand a football game, I purchased a somewhat ordinary looking, blue-and-yellow (sorry, maize) hat with a modest-sized “M” at the top, perched tastefully underneath a small pom-pom. The hat was deliriously warm, even for Ann Arbor in November.

Back at home, this Michigan hat became my go-to accessory for dog walking, shopping, and running errands. Wearing the hat made me feel close to my daughter, who was so happily ensconced in her school with new friends and interesting classes, but who was now living over 600 miles away.

Almost immediately, something strange started to happen whenever I wore the hat. Strangers (these are New Yorkers) started to talk to me. “Hey, Go Blue!” a person would call out to me from across the street.

 

 

“Tough loss on Saturday,” a stranger would shake his head and sympathize in the produce department. Another man, this one a proud Penn State alum, needed to speak to me in front of the waxed paper and aluminum foil about the game between the schools (which I had witnessed firsthand).

Baseball is my sport of choice, so I had to check in with my children to catch up regarding names of quarterbacks, personality quirks of coaches, and intelligence regarding rival teams, including archrival Ohio State. At my son’s Little League Baseball games, I’ve been known to sit on the opposing side’s bleachers to chat with friends and even let a cheer slip out for their children, so I’m not exactly a hardened sports fan. Even though my family moved when I was 3 years old, my passport still reveals that I was born in Ohio. How much of a pure Michigan fan can I be?

What I had stumbled into was a community of Wolverines and alums from Big Ten schools who felt connected to one another through sports and shared experiences and memories. Although I was not an official member of this tribe, I was tangentially attached to this enthusiastic culture through my child.

I may not be much of a football fan, and the entire undergraduate student body of my alma mater is smaller than my daughter’s freshman class, but I have been feeling the embrace of a network of alumni and just plain lovers of Michigan sports since donning my new hat.

When an older man at the gas station asked me, “Will he stay or will he go?” I looked puzzled for a moment. “Harbaugh, Harbaugh,” he prompted me, pointing to my warm hat and referring to the much-discussed head football coach. Having done my due diligence, I can parrot my sons’ opinions with some confidence.

“They have great defense but somehow need to learn to keep it together when the games really matter.” The man smiles and nods. He gives me a knowing glance. It’s the look I used to share with my brother when we had pizza with non-Jewish friends—the only two kids who didn’t eat the pepperoni.

My hat has opened the door to new conversations and a new community. My head and my heart are warmer for it.

This essay originally appeared as “I Found an Unexpected Community While Wearing a College Hat” on the website Grown and Flown (grownandflown.com).


Sharon Forman is the author of “Honest Answers to Your Child’s Jewish Questions,” numerous essays on parenting, and, most recently, “The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings.”

Michigan Alumnus is made possible through the generous support of Alumni Association members. Join today to help sustain the future of Michigan Alumnus and other alumni programs. Visit umalumni.com/support.